Toe Walking – Not Just For Ballerinas Anymore

I know nothing about dancing. I’ve never been fond of dancing myself. Aside from some occasional thrashing about in nightclubs back in my early twenties, I am generally standing on the sidelines, or more likely, near the food/bar. From what I understand however, dancers, particular those in the ballet, work long and hard to build the strength and flexibility in their calves to allow for dancing on their toes. Apparently this makes movements more graceful and beautiful.

In children, toe walking takes on a completely different meaning. Many children walk on their tip-toes as they learn to walk, and will generally abandon that for a more typical heel-first walking style early on. Sometimes, children do not shake the habit, however, and despite its cuteness, can be pretty damaging both physically and emotionally. We have just begun officially dealing with this in our own little toe-walking son.

A neighbor of ours brought it to our attention over a year ago now. She told us about her own son’s toe-walking, and his need for a serial brace work for portions of every day in order to stretch out the tendons in the Achilles area to allow for a heel-first strike. Xavier advanced through most of his physical milestones early than average, and began walking just as he turned 10 months. Very shortly thereafter, he began running and kicking (I proudly share that he already has “mad” soccer skills). I must admit, it was tough to hear that my budding athlete might have an issue with his legs, but our neighbor’s warning was accurate, and after Xavier failed to shake the habit after more than a year and a half of walking, we decided to have a consultation with a physical therapist at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

The session was held in a typical doctor’s office, but the staff was a bit different. Instead of stethoscopes and tongue depressors, they came equipped with what appeared to be some sort of protractor, some toy cars, and a basketball. As far as Xavier was concerned, there couldn’t be a more entertaining doctor’s office to visit! They asked Xavier to do a series of things like squat down, lay on his stomach (so they could measure the angles his stretched tendons would allow), and walk like a duck. He behaved wonderfully, following every request and suggestion perfectly. Eventually, we made our way to a more gym-like room where other exercises followed.

The result is that while bracing is not necessary right now, we do have some exercises to perform daily with Xavier at home, and will be heading to therapy weekly for the next 4-6 weeks. The exercises are fairly entertaining, so Xavier doesn’t put up a fuss (for now), but it does take even more discipline and diligence in all of us to make sure we are doing them regularly and correctly. I have a high degree of confidence that we are taking care of this early enough that we will be able to correct his walking through exercise alone, but time will tell. Either way, it takes nothing away from his abilities or coordination (remember…MAD SKILLS), so I am not worried.

A word of warning, however, for other parents out there. We were told that though this could just be something natural that he was predisposed to do, some things can exacerbate the problem. Among those things are the family of “exer-saucers” and “walking aids” that seem pretty ubiquitous in children’s playtime rota. Before Xavier was walking, we would frequently let him play in his Rainforest Jumperoo by Fisher-Price. It seemed like an excellent toy to us – he loved it, it appeared to strengthen his legs, and it kept him occupied without crawling all over the condo like some drunken marine doing basic training drills. Come to find out that these toys encourage the child to brace their weight on their toes early on until they graduate to walking. Then, in an evil follow-up, the “walking toys” that seem to help the child walk actually force the child out of control, and that is exactly their problem. When used, the child is encouraged to walk with their weight forward on their toes in order to keep up with the rolling toy. Again, Xavier LOVED his “walker”, though due to frequent collisions with objects both inanimate (the wall or a pile of toys) and animate (my foot or the cat), we were less in love with this one, and will happily forgo its use with Hayden.

Rainforest Jumperoo by Fisher Price

Xavier in his Rainforest Jumperoo, a.k.a. Tendon Compactor

In place of these toys, the therapists suggest loads of “tummy time”. If you are a parent, you know what “tummy time” is, and if your not a parent…well, you can guess. Another problem that comes with toe-walking (or is it a cause – I can’t remember) is weak abdominal muscles. Strong abdominal muscles are developed during tummy time, and in turn encourage the weight to fall back on the heels when walking, standing, etc. You can actually see it on Xavier when he tries to perform a sit-up of sorts. A ridge running vertically down the middle of the stomach pushes up as he tenses his abdominals. This ridge, along with a noticeable flaring of the ribcage is the result of the two sides not yet “coming together” (again, I don’t know the scientific terminology). This too should be corrected with these exercises we are performing.

So, if you child, or soon to be child displays the toe-walking and abdominal ridge after 18 months of age, I suggest a visit to a good physical therapist to catch the problem before it becomes an impairment that needs correcting during school years. Kids can be cruel. We’ve all been there – probably on both sides of the teasing battlefield – and whether the child is forced to wear orthopedic shoes, or walk like a ballerina, chances are some taunts will be uttered in their direction.

If you have a very young child who hasn’t yet gotten into a Jumperoo-type or walking-assistance product, heed my advice, and stick with “tummy time”. Not only is it better for your child, but it will save you a few bucks as well.

Be well!

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The drama is deafening!

I am a history buff. Yes, I know…yawn, but alas, I am. So, having the historical education that I have, I should not be surprised by the drama that exists in this country right now (drama has existed throughout history), yet I find myself constantly amazed. I also expect that my posting of this article will cause a fair amount of drama among my limited number of readers, but I am going to post it nonetheless in the hopes that I am being logical, and that the vast majority of people will agree with my points.

On Thursday, we took Hayden into the pediatrician for her 6 month checkup. She is very healthy, growing well…all systems go. While we were there, we continued her parentally modified vaccination schedule with a couple shots (Pentacel and Prevnar). She is still behind in her Prevnar, but she will not get “more behind” going forward. As we did with Xavier during his first two years, we chose not to get Hayden immunized against either seasonal flu or the notorious H1N1 (gosh, it’s like uttering Voldemort). Much to Xavier’s chagrin, despite it being Hayden’s checkup, we shanghaied him with an immunization during the visit, as we were afforded the opportunity to get him the thimerasol-free H1N1 nasal mist (he also received the seasonal FluMist 6 weeks earlier). Neither Kerry nor I have ever gotten a flu vaccination.

Kerry has gone on record saying she has never had the flu in her life, and I can tell you that I haven’t had the flu in at least 17 years. Neither of us goes to a workplace, and actually spend most of our time among our own family in our neighborhood. Of course our “neighborhood” consists of something like 1.5 million people, but work with me here. Hayden is still only 6 months old, and in very good health thus far. Hayden (like Xavier before her) does not go to daycare, and is rarely in contact with anything that does not originate in our own house.

Xavier, on the other hand is officially a little boy, and regularly partakes in all the active socializing, and “gross” behaviors that come along with it. As an example, last week he and I walked over to the train station food court so I could try the enticing new “Black Taco” at Taco Bell. As I was waiting to pay, I looked down to spy my beautiful boy licking the front of the service counter! So, figuring that if anyone might bring home H1N1, or the seasonal flu for that matter, Xavier would, we decided to get him immunized for both.

OK, so to the point of the post. Upon returning home, I posted a status update on Facebook asking if our decision to immunize against “swine flu” made me a slave to the media or a responsible parent. I got several answers, and though most agreed we are responsible parents, there was more than one dissension. Being the person I am, and having some time on my hands, I decided to read more about H1N1 than I already had, and am blown away by what I have read.

So, unlike some of my posts, I am not intending to take a particular side of this issue, though it might end up sounding that way. Please remember that my intent here is to call out the unnecessary drama that we continue to create in our lives. Please also remember, we did not get Xavier vaccinated for fear he will die, but more because we would like to avoid him getting the flu because having a sick kid sucks. Additionally, my decision not to get myself vaccinated has nothing to do with fear of the potential side effects of the shot, but rather the laziness with which I take care of myself.

First, I’ll address the drama resulting from the fear of the virus itself. Listen, Influenza is no fun, and is prevalent in our society and the world. It is a nasty virus that attacks the respiratory system, and for most who get it, wastes about a week of their lives with high fever, coughing, and achiness. For too many others, about 3,500 per year in Illinois on average, it unfortunately ends in death resulting from complications associated with this virus, primarily pneumonia. Though a high number, this generally falls well behind heart disease and cancer (#1 and #2), and slightly behind other well-known culprits such as strokes, chronic lung diseases (emphysema/COPD/bronchitis/cystic fibrosis), accidents, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s…in Illinois at least.

H1N1 has been “around” since April 2009, or at least this strain of it. There have been H1N1 outbreaks in the past, the most recent of which was contained to a single military unit at Fort Dix, NJ, and killed only one soldier. So far, in Illinois, H1N1 has resulted in 542 hospitalizations and 22 fatalities. Only 5 of those 22 were children 18 years and younger, and only 1 was under 4 years of age. Even if we acknowledge that the major outbreak might just be gearing up, and we have only really experienced about a month of this nastiness, that trend is suggesting about 265 fatalities in the next 11 months. I understand that I am using grade school math here, and that the actual trends suggest this outbreak will be slightly higher than the 2008-09 seasonal epidemic, but even that suggests that if we take the simple preventative measures that are both being advised and should be common sense, most of us will not perish at the hands of this virus. So, cover your mouth, wash your hands often, and for the love of everything holy, if you are sick, sit your butt down, and don’t go to work, functions, meetings, recitals, or anywhere else where you think your are “needed” for life to move forward until you are over it.

On the flip side, of course, are those afraid or opposed to the immunization. Really, you are scared of the flu shot? What is going to happen? Flu shots do not cause the flu. Side effects of the flu shot are by all reports, rare (though I must admit I can not find any actual reported numbers, just the word “rare”). The worst is an illness called Guillain-Barre Syndrome which is associated with a swine flu vaccine developed and administered in 1976…yes, 33 years ago! Since then, studies have shown that only 1 in 1,000,000 people may be at risk of the illness associated with a flu vaccine. Science has done some remarkable things, and the development of vaccines to prevent illnesses is most certainly one of those things. It is easy to distrust things that we do not personally understand, but why is it so easy to trust those things that are so contradictory to them? I read somewhere that there is going to be an episode of “Sid the Science Kid” created by Jim Henson’s gang airing on Monday and will be about getting your flu shot. The writer was suggesting that the episode was evidence of Big-Pharma backed programming using propaganda to sell more immunizations, as if kids are going to all of a sudden enjoy getting shots.

So, as with so many things in life, I am suggesting that we all relax and attempt to fall somewhere in the middle of the two sides of this drama. This H1N1 is a virus that has, and will continue to cause fatalities among us. More often, it is going to knock people out of commission for several days leading to the usual wintertime decrease in productivity at offices and schools across the country. No doubt, the manufactures of the vaccines will push for more vaccinations as we still live in a capitalist economy designed to allow those corporations to profit from a demand. Take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones. Get the vaccines or don’t, but let’s recognize this for what it is (a respectable viral outbreak), and for what it is not (a conspiracy). So when I stupidly come down with either the seasonal flu or H1N1, the blame will only be mine.

Be Well!

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I have heard it said on more than a handful of occasions that children are the toughest job and the greatest joy one can experience. While I am sure that isn’t exactly true for everyone, it is for me. One of the greatest challenges that I have had with my young children is understanding what the hell they are talking about.

Obviously, little Hayden at 6 months old isn’t talking yet, but she is definitely communicating. Her cries, whimpers, screams, giggles, and coos all mean something, and can often mean several things…oh, wait…maybe she is speaking Hawaiian?

Kerry seems to understand her better than I do. She seems to know that one kicking fit means Hayden is hungry while another means she is tired. For me she is either happy, sad, content, or asleep. While simple, it seems to work between Hayden and I, until it’s time to eat, of course.

Xavier’s speech, on the other hand, has exploded recently. Just 7 months ago on his second birthday, Xavier possessed a handful of words and could compose a rare, brief, and somewhat intelligible sentence to ask for water or to see a train. Today, he speaks primarily in sentences, and possesses a shockingly complex vocabulary (along with a word or two I wished he hadn’t picked up on – though sure to get a bit saltier in future years). According to one of my favorite “assistance books”, What To Expect, The Toddler Years, children about Xavier’s age should be able to carry on a conversation of 2 or 3 sentences, so he is right on target, but it still amazes me.

Among his favorite words of late are actually and maybe. Listening to him talk gives me perspective on what it must be like for immigrants to this country, suddenly trying to learn the English language. “Maybe” doesn’t so much mean that something might or might not happen, but rather acts as a lead in to a request for something…assuming a yes response, of course.

“Maybe us go see trains?”

“Maybe I can have juice?”

“Actually” is even more enjoyable to listen to. Xavier sounds like a wise instructor always correcting our sentences.

“Actually we are watching Nemo.”

“Actually us going to the park today.”

Every day brings new developments, and already the word maybe seems to be finding its’ more proper role as a frequently used adverb to express the possibility of something. He has thankfully picked up on “please” in the last few days, and now politely asks for things like water, or to see trains…unless we say no, that is.

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T-T-T Terrible Twos and the Time Out

When I first discovered that I was going to become a parent, lots of things sped through my mind, bombarding my fears and preconceptions from every angle. Everyone was ready to offer advice, which I repeatedly solicited, and everyone shared their own stories and experiences. It was hard to avoid two in particular. The first is so ubiquitous it’s ridiculous (like that?), and that is the concept of “Terrible Twos”. The second, almost as famous, is the method of punishment/discipline known as the time out.

As much as I heard about both of these things, it never really hit home until I experienced them for myself beginning several months ago. I have to say that being at home all the time simultaneously with this kicking in has given me a better perspective on the whole thing. My conclusion thus far? The “Terrible Twos” are, hm…OH SO REAL, and the time out, while grounded in good intentions, has thus far been an exercise in futility.

Ah yes, the proverbial exercise in futility, first conceived, I believe, when the biblical Jesse of Bethlehem kept sitting son David in a corner for throwing rocks at the bigger children…or did it really start with a young Dennis Rodman? One can never be sure. In any case, my experience with the time out method tells me that it is marginally effective at best, though we are not intending to abandon it yet. Much like my other current time-consuming project, the job search, it is an exercise that you must continue to utilize until it either proves successful or irrelevant.

This all comes into play only due to the firestorm that is the “Terrible Twos”. I have been told that not all children go through the “Terrible Twos”. For some it waits until the threes, or even the fours. For some, I hear whispers, that it never arrives, and those shame-on-you-for-how-lucky-you-are parents just skate on by with some abnormally well-behaved little darling. Without researching any kind of data, I will go out on a limb and say that those special little children are by far the exception, so most parents reading this will know exactly what I am writing about.

It begins with the child learning two key words, i.e. “No” and “Mine”. Please understand that these two words will sometimes mean what the dictionary says they mean, and sometimes will mean almost anything else. This is quickly followed by the child’s development of favorite things to do/eat, and finally a desire to test the limits of his or her independence. In the case of my little Jekyll/Hyde, Xavier, this phase (Era) has arrived right on schedule, and with a vengeance.

Please don’t misunderstand me, a good portion of the time, Xavier is as sweet and happy as any two-year-old could be. He is outgoing, charming, funny, and packed with energy. I absolutely love him, and cherish all the time I do get to spend with him right now…unfortunately, he spends a fair amount of that time in the aforementioned time out.

"It wasn't me..."

"It wasn't me..."

The root cause for his extended stays in time out revolves around his complete and utter unwillingness to listen. He “knows” this is why he spends so much time there as most of his sits resolve with an amazingly sincere-sounding “I’m sorry for not listen.” So, why then does the time out seem to lack any real impact? I think it is because this is simply part of the development that any child must go through to help them understand and define their own personality and moral/ethical barometer. The fact that their undesirable behaviors are consistently followed by an unwanted consequence must help reinforce in their mind what they should and should not do in life…right?

One alternative, spanking, is not an option for me. One thing I do believe is that we teach our children what is right and wrong through our own behavior as much as anything else, and I would prefer that my child learn to deal with conflict calmly and rationally, e.g. the time out, than through corporal punishment. It seems to me that I and my siblings grew up as very normal, law-abiding citizens (my brother’s penchant for being a parking scofflaw aside) and were never subjected to either spanking nor the time out to the best of my memory. Those friends of mine who did get spanked, seemed to get it A LOT, so how effective was that?

So, we will continue on with the time out, hope that these “Terrible Twos” end sooner than later, then move on to the next phase, whatever that may be…until Hayden hits the “Twos” that is.

What about you all?  Any opinions on the subject, either yea or nay? All feedback is welcome from both those with experience and without.

Be Well!

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The 4-month comparison

The last time I did this picture comparison was at 7 weeks. Today, 8/10 is Hayden’s 4-month “birthday”, so wanted to give it another go.

Xavier in his swing at 4 months old

Xavier in his swing at 4 months old

Let’s start with Xavier. He is as happy as a clam just three days after officially turning 4 months old. Pay special attention to the longer and darker hair he was sporting as compared with Hayden.

Hayden in the same swing on her 4 month birthday

Hayden in the same swing on her 4 month birthday

Then we have Hayden. Believe it or not, Hayden is bigger at the same age than Xavier was, and he was a big boy until he was almost a year old. Her hair is a bit lighter, and does not lay down yet like Xavier’s did. The other thing I notice is that her eyes are a little larger and rounder, but it is subtle.

So, what do you all think? They definitely look like siblings, don’t they?

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Young Kids and Hot Days Don’t Mix

2009 has been a strange year for weather here in Chicago. By all accounts, it has been one of the coldest and wettest years on record, while down in Texas and parts of the Southwest they bake in 100+ degree heat and severe drought. Well, we finally had a scorcher here in Chicago yesterday, relatively speaking. It was by no means even close to the hottest days I remember, and should not have been in any way unexpected, but it was hot enough to stay indoors, that much is not in question.

So, I took Xavier out for an early morning visit to the park, still covered in shade from the ever-rising condo development just to the east. We ran around and got some energy out, but then it was back home as the heat was rising for a long day of books, toys, and lots of Thomas the Tank Engine videos. Right now, the video on repeat is Percy’s Chocolate Crunch, but that is neither here nor there.

He handled the indoors fairly well most of the day, but come 7:15 or so, when Xavier began running random laps around the house, it became very clear that he needed another outdoor excursion. By 7:30, most of the heat had gone away, though it was still very muggy. He was not interested in the park, so we went by the river to watch all the boats troll up and down the waterway. Before heading back home, I treated him to a tasty chocolate shake at Baskin Robbins; a reward for “dealing’ with the day.

Xavier enjoying some cool breezes by the river.

Xavier enjoying some cool breezes by the river.

It leaves me with a question for all of you parents out there…what do you do to entertain your young children on hot summer days? Do you just head outside with light clothing, sunscreen, and hats, or do you have cool and inexpensive indoor fun on the docket? I’d love to hear any and all suggestions!

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A Better Diaper – A Better World

The day I became a father, my life changed dramatically, and I would assume that to be true for virtually all but the worst of parents. Priorities change, motivation changes, and the budget changes. I can say that with all honesty, that the change that most grinds my gears, however, is the change itself…yes, the diaper change.

Oh my, there is just so much poop! An infant will regularly go through 9-10 diapers per day, slowing a bit as they age, but still prolific. I always thought that the excrement would be the thing that got to me, not being one with an iron-clad stomach for bodily things. Lo and behold, it turns out I have little issue with poop, puke, boogers and the like when they are coming from my own flesh and blood…it’s the diapers that get me.

See, from the second your child is born, the hospital has you wrapping their smooth newborn bottoms with nothing other than Pampers or Huggies, depending on who has the strongest salesman in that area, I suppose. During those first days in the hospital alone, you will probably go through 20-40 diapers depending on how long you stay. The first time through, like so many other things, I thought little of this, until we got home, that is, and started to drag out bags full of the crap-filled bundles.

During yet another trek down the hall to dump my son’s little gifts to the world, I thought to myself, “wow, how many other people in our building alone are dumping diapers at this rate? How many in all of Chicago?” So, being the inquisitive one that I am, I looked it up. The answer is, a lot!

In the United States alone, we dump 50 million disposable diapers every day into our landfills! OK, stop and think about that…50,000,000 disposable diapers every day. That is 3.5 million tons of poop-filled goodness every day entering our landfills. Annually, again in the United States alone, as many as 23 billion, yes, that is 23,000,000,000 disposable diapers are sold, and presumably, used. The most conservative estimate for how long it takes a single disposable diaper to biodegrade in a landfill is 200 years, and in reality, probably closer to 500 years…not that they have been around that long yet to physically observe.  That means that every single disposable diaper that the world has ever used is still sitting around somewhere on Earth (unless we have secretly jettisoned some out into space during a shuttle mission, of course), a number too large for my measly iPhone calculator to display. Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer items in landfills, and represent 30% of all non-biodegradable waste in America. Additionally, every single traditional disposable diaper contains about a cup of crude oil. That is a lot of oil…something we could stand to use far less of.

Those numbers alone made me shudder, simply knowing what about 12-18 of the little suckers could make the trash can smell like after a few days. I, being the self-proclaimed environmentalist that I am, spoke with my wife, and found out that she was thinking along the same lines I was. We did what we had to do, and started looking for a good alternative to the Pampers…and we had already ruled out Huggies, of course.

Now, let me be clear, disposable diapers are the bomb! I am in no way denying the convenience and ease of wrapping one on, then removing and rolling it up for an easy 3-point shot into the garbage. Cloth diapering along with the endless washing it would involve didn’t sound like something we were up for, so were hoping that wasn’t our only alternative. Fortunately for us, it was not…there were actually better disposable options available – for a price.

X-Man in a gDiaper

X-Man in a gDiaper

Well…it’s mostly great. Personally, I love the gDiaper option. It is almost as easy to use as a normal disposable, but without the nasty after-effects. The “gPant” is offered in a variety of colors, and now patterns, ensuring your kid will have a well-dressed bottom, even when going pant-less. The only drawbacks (and they are drawbacks) are as follows:

  1. The gDiaper is definitely less absorbant than a normal disposable diaper, and is more prone to leaks and seepage, though just as efficient as disposables with the handling of the solid stuff.
  2. Already expensive, you end up using a couple more per day due to the above deficiency, so price is a factor.
  3. Disposal, should you choose the flushable option, can be a little messy at times until you get the hang of it.

All in all, I would choose this option always, but as with many other things, we have compromised here in the Hilgart household. See, one of the other great benefits to being careful with our diaper decision is that we found our son’s skin to be much healthier once we switched from the “traditional” disposable to the gDiaper…funny what removing solvents and chlorine bleach from constant direct contact with your child’s skin will do. Diaper rash became rare at worst, mostly completely gone. But the cost and leaking were getting on Mom’s nerves, so option number two, the biodegradable, and chlorine-free disposable diaper.

Seventh Generation diapers

Seventh Generation diapers

After a couple of trials with a few brands, we seem to have settled on the chlorine-free disposables by Seventh Generation.  Functioning in essentially the same way as any Pampers or Huggies option, Seventh Generation tout “soft, cloth-like comfort, with premium absorbency”, in addition to being hypo-allergenic and fragrance & latex free. Though probably still a burden on the landfill (more so than the gDiaper anyway), these are produced without petroleum products or the dioxins that have been frequently linked to reproductive problems and cancers. Additionally, we eliminate the solid waste into the toilet before rolling and tossing the diaper to ensure as best as we can that we are keeping the landfill safe from fecal contamination. Yes, this can be messy as well.

We still use the gDiaper, though only during the day…always to bed with the Seventh Generation, or we’ll be washing sheets as well. If you are a parent with kids in diapers, and if you are, bless you for taking the time to read my blog, consider using either of these diapers. Definitely check out the gDiapers before deciding you can’t afford it. If you are going to continue rolling and tossing disposables as we have done, try a bleach-free, dioxin-free, petroleum-free option, and flush the poop, seriously, you will be doing the world some good.

As always, please leave comments as the urge grabs you, after all, who doesn’t like a good discussion about poop?

Be well!

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